It's easy to criticise Conan. Cheesy. Dated. And ever-so-slightly fascist (Conan is the ultimate Aryan: punishing the weak and defending the strong, while looking great in thigh-high boots). But while all that's true, for Arnie fans, the film still rocks.
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Director John Milius does a nice job of setting up the initial story.... But for whatever reasons, [Schwarzenegger] has a minimum of dialog and fails to convey much about the character through his actions.
Conan the Barbarian is pretty much unsurpassed as a movie.
The character arc of Conan is interesting, in how he starts as a nobody with many years of extreme hardship and destitution moulding him into what he is. While the epic revenge arc is cliche, the way it is delivered is not.
This is how heroic characters are created, not as Mary Sue or Chosen One. This hero is a hero because the world threw a lot of sh-t at him and he overcame it. The movie illustrates this brutal reality well at the beginning, when there are 30 or so other kids put in the same situation. Each could have been a Conan, but only one overcame the harsh reality and survived, by sheer determination, rather than special powers.
By the time Conan and his pals reach the apex of their power and slaughter an entire squad of armoured horseman, it feels well-deserved, rather than driven by cringy character shielding and railroaded plot like in so many movies.
A guilty pleasure, carried by Arnolds brute charisma and his lack of acting. A fantasy tale that is ultimately both enjoyable and very silly. The ending is quite disappointing, though, even with this "Riefenstahlesque" look.
Although the movie has so many unnecessary parts with a hurried ending, John Millius created "Conan the Barbarian" with a appropriate cast and fantastic visuals, which is why its regarded as a classic.
This film has some strenghts: The music is epic, good and really suits to the movie. The set pieces are realistic and good looking (but they are not enough diverse). Art direction is cool. The effects are good but there are not enough effects in this movie. The fight choreographies are decent. However this movie has many weaknesses too: From acting that leaves more than a lot to be desired, a generic, blank and almost mute main character (Conan), a caricatural vilain (Thulsa Doom), completely blank secondary characters (Subotai, Thorgrim and Rexor.), a simple plot that is bogged down by random side quests (Becoming a gladiator, pushing a big wheel, the underground necropolis and the sword,...) and useless minor characters (the mongols slave masters, the witch, the priest, ...) met along the way, a love story that doesn't really work, this high budget movie is boring and it definitely is not good. In fact, by the time the plot was introduced (45 minutes), I had almost checked out of the movie. I'm honestly not sure why this film is considered a classic; it's not good, that's for sure!
This is one of those movies that leaves me not knowing what to think. On the one hand, it has become very popular and has a legion of fans, but the truth is that it looks like an extremely dated film and an extraordinary surrender to kitsch, with those costumes and props of somewhat dubious taste, fanciful and inspired by the original comics created by Robert E. Howard.
The screenplay, written based on the original stories, takes place in an uncertain time in Antiquity, and begins with the massacre of a town or village by a group of warriors. A child, Conan, is taken as a slave and grows up as such, acquiring enormous stamina and strength at the expense of hard work. He thus becomes a bounty fighter and learns to kill. When he is free, he finds the path that leads him to a quest for revenge against those who massacred his family and took his freedom. Personally, I can't swallow the way this film (like the source material) chews up the past and creates a completely strange space-time reality, where Neolithic elements intersect with medieval props and creations invented for the film, such as the sword of Conan. The construction of the characters, the writing of the dialogues, the conception of the story, everything leaves something to be desired and reveals itself to be average and poor.
If there's anyone for whom this movie was important, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger. This actor, now renowned, had his first big box office success in this film, and a job that opened the door to other films, particularly "Terminator". And in fact, the actor lived up to what was asked of him (it wasn't much, because his character is basically a muscular animal driven by anger and without any dramatic depth) and his work is the determining point for the success of the film. To be frank, seeing the way he manages, being aware of the relevance the film has had to his career, is the only plausible reason to see it. James Earl Jones also appears here and is the only actor capable of effectively playing a character, but he doesn't have much to do, appears little and seems to be out of his element and uncomfortable with the character.
On a technical level, the film has an effective direction by John Millius and good cinematography, which makes good use of the filming locations. The sets and costumes, apart from any matter of personal taste, were well executed and look realistic. The biggest technical problem I've noticed is the primitive special effects and visuals, some of them shockingly obvious like the extra who, to simulate the swing of a sword, takes his hand to his shoulder, strategically placing a bag of fake blood that breaks out. The action scenes are the film's strong point and are heavily staged and theatrical, but they work and are somehow genuine. The film also has an atmosphere that leads us to think that it has given itself too much importance, something that the heroic soundtrack emphasizes and reinforces, which ends up being comical in itself.